How Much Should You Be Spending on Book Awards?

by Marylee MacDonald in For Writers Ready to Publish

Book awards can help your book gain traction. When you’re attending a book fair, having a shiny sticker on the cover draws attention. And when you’re setting up your author’s pages, featuring the “bling” can’t hurt.

book awards can draw attention at a book festival

At a book festival a shiny, gold sticker on the cover of a book might be just the thing that makes a passerby pick it up. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Several of this blog’s subscribers stand on the brink of publishing first or second books. Every one of these folks is publishing with presses that use print-on-demand (POD) technology. That automatically excludes these authors from having their books considered for the Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award. So, how is an author supposed to collect some bling? Enter book awards for indie authors. If you win, place, or show, you may win a medallion, a cash prize, publicity, book reviews, or a 1-month residency at a university.

I’ve been pretty fortunate in winning awards for both my books. In this post I’m going to share my strategies for success. I’ve also created a spreadsheet that will make it easier for you to decide where and when to submit.

Timing Is Everything

Most book awards require you to submit your book in the calendar year of its copyright. I think it’s an advantage to have a book appear during the first quarter of the year. If a book is published in November or December, the author has a very narrow time frame. It’s no fun to spend your holiday season writing checks, filling out submission forms, and madly stuffing envelopes.

Even if you don’t need it immediately, download my Excel spreadsheet on AWARDS FOR PUBLISHED BOOKS.

Let’s say your book came out a year ago. All is not lost. Some awards allow you to submit books with a copyright date of a year or two in the past. Receiving an award can give your book a boost. You may want to think about this as the “long-game launch” strategy.

Think Strategically About Which Book Awards You Should Enter

Book awards for indie authors typically have tons of categories. Entry fees for one category can run $75-$150. For an additional, “reduced” fee, you can enter the book in a second, third, or fourth category. With my own books I’ve never had that strategy pay off. Bottom line? Don’t waste your money.

Look carefully at the books that have won previous awards. Is this an award site to which small and university presses are likely to submit? (Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Awards fall in that category.) My book, which was a finalist in 2016, competed against books published by Milkweed and Sarabande. That was a good contest for me to enter.

The book also took a Silver Medal in the Readers’ Favorites INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS. This is a contest I really like, maybe because my debut novel had won a Gold Medal for Drama the year before. I know from having gone to their awards’ ceremony in Miami that they’re truly committed to helping indie authors, unlike some other awards that are mainly in it to line the pockets of the organizers. They’re also wide open to self-published authors.

example of a book award

Apples to Apples, Oranges to Oranges

My books don’t do well in award competitions with predominately genre fiction, and by that I mean fantasy, horror, thrillers, and romance. However, those competitions might very well be the ones where your steamy bodice-ripper would win the judges’ hearts. If you’re in doubt about which contests to enter, review the first few pages of last year’s winners on Amazon, and see how your book matches up.

And, speaking of judges, I would look on the site to see who, exactly, is judging the competition. In some cases past winners serve as judges. In other cases former librarians cast votes. Before sending your money, it’s entirely fair to contact the organizers and ask questions.

Where Does All the Money Go?

You’ll notice on my spreadsheet that I include columns for both the entry fee and the dollar amount of cash prizes. In some cases there are no cash prizes. The award you receive will be a medallion or the possibility of buying award stickers for your book.

On the other hand, you’ll discover awards where the intent is clearly to help authors connect with readers. One I was particularly delighted to discover was the Wishing Shelf Independent Book Awards, run by an author. And, of course, Writers’ Digest, long in the business of helping aspiring authors, continues to run contests and offer big cash prizes.

Still, I think there’ll be a few surprises for you on my list, one being a $1000 cash prize and writing residency at Western Connecticut State University, an award offered in alternating years to writers of genre and literary fiction. Another surprise will be the Sarton Women’s Book Awards, offered by The Story Circle.

When you download this spreadsheet, you’ll see that I’ve left the spreadsheet open so that you can add your own discoveries.

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